After the terrorist attack in Paris that left about a hundred dead and over three hundred injured, the question of Syrian refugees is in the air. The connection between terrorism and refugees seems intuitive if we unquestionably accept the media narrative.
Many politicians and media pundits repeat that letting in refugees would also expose the United States to terrorist attacks. Some politicians have even falsely claimed that the terrorist attacks happened because the terrorists came in among refugees. This is false, but false narratives have not prevented governors from exploiting a tragedy for political purposes. Writing for Truthdig, Juan Cole points out 10 reasons that governors are wrong to exclude Syrian refugees. Here are a few that attack claims that are most frequently made:
1. The attackers in Paris were European nationals. The Syrian passport found near one of them was a fake. So are the governors opposed to Belgian immigration into the United States?
2. The attackers were not refugees. They were born in Europe. Refugees are poor and lacking in knowledge or resources about their new environment. The attackers knew exactly where everything was that they wanted to assault and were hooked in with arms smugglers and other hard-to-discover criminal networks.
5. The Economist points out that since 2001, the US has admitted roughly 750,000 refugees and none, zero, nada have been accused of involvement in domestic terrorism aimed at the US homeland (2 Iraqis were accused of trying to help a terrorist organization back in Iraq).
8. The US owes these refugees. Without the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, there would have been no al-Qaeda in that part of the world, and no al-Qaeda offshoots like Daesh/ ISIL. Why do the governors (most of whom supported the invasion of Iraq) think the US can go around the world sowing instability and being responsible for creating the conditions that lead to millions of refugees but then can avoid the responsibility of ameliorating those broken lives?
Cole’s eighth point is particularly important. The United States has played a central role in creating the refugee crisis.
Today, outside the governor’s mansion in Princeton, New Jersey, about 60 people gathered together to show solidarity with the Syrian refugees and express their disgust with Governor Chris Christie’s racist rejection of refugees (a decision for which he has no constitutional power). In spite of the cold weather, the crowd was quite energetic. Many people gave good speeches appealing to our moral duties to accept refugees, calling out Christie and other governors’ racist rhetoric and reflecting on the equality of all lives lost due to terrorism whether the victims live in Paris, Beirut, Bamako or Gaza.
My friend David Hungerford and I tried to provide some context for the refugee crisis itself (check out David’s article History Repeats Itself in Paris). David talked about the conference in Vienna. To quote from his article in South Front (which you should read):
On October 30, 2015, U.S. imperialism found itself facing a political disaster of a very high order in Vienna. The Syrian government’s position in the country’s civil war has been greatly strengthened by its alliance with Russia. Because of that the United States had to sign an agreement with fifteen countries, including Russia. The European Union and the United Nations are also signatories.
The stated purpose is “to discuss the grave situation in Syria and how to bring about an end to the violence as soon as possible.” A nine-point political process is outlined. Point 8 says: “This political process will be Syrian led and Syrian owned, and the Syrian people will decide the future of Syria.” [Emphasis original.]
The government of Syria is not a signatory since the aim is to set up negotiations between it and its domestic opposition in the conflict. Terrorists are specifically excluded. Further efforts on the process are in motion.
By signing the Vienna agreement the United States had to give up its lawless and violent policy of “regime change,” at least in words. It had to give up its demand that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must go.
At the rally, David rightly said, “Regime change is undeclared war.” This is exactly right. And his comment gets at the root cause of the crisis.
The Syrian refugee crisis is a crisis of imperialism. The cause of the crisis begins not within Syria, but with the United States’ war on Iraq.
Contrary to popular belief, the war in Iraq did not begin in 2003. The war on Iraq begins with George H. W. Bush, but reached a new level of cruelty with President Bill Clinton’s economic sanctions in the 90s. The sanctions deprived Iraqi citizens of food, medical supplies and much needed chlorine for water purification. The result was 500,000 Iraqis, mostly children, died as a direct result of the sanctions. This itself is a tragedy.
Unfortunately, that was just the beginning of the destruction of Iraq. The 2003 Bush invasion of Iraq and subsequent occupation led to an astronomical amount of innocent civilian deaths. Conservative estimates put the number of civilian casualties at around 500,000, though it’s likely far higher. So from 1991 to 2011, the United States killed about a million Iraqis, some 4% of the population. This is genocide.
The wanton destruction of Iraqi life, infrastructure and society created the conditions for reactionaries to take power.
Syria shares a 370 mile border with Iraq. The disintegration of the Iraqi state was followed by the disintegration of the Syria-Iraq border — a critical part in ISIS’s rise to power.
Thanks to Wikileaks, we now know that since 2006 (several years before the Syrian civil war), the United States has tried to oust Assad. The plan was “to use a number of different factors to create paranoia within the Syrian government; to push it to overreact, to make it fear there’s a coup” including “foster[ing] tensions between Shiites and Sunnis.”
This is not a new strategy. John Negroponte served as ambassador to Honduras in the 1980s. At the time, the Reagan administration used Honduras as a military base to arm the mercenary opposition to the Sandinistas in El Salvador. Negroponte was central to this plan as he helped form the Contra death squads that went on a murderous rampage in El Salvador indiscriminately killing women, children, innocent peasants, labor organizers, left-wing dissidents and any who opposed the “national interest” of the United States.
For his role in massacring the people of El Salvador, Negroponte was awarded with a position in Bush’s post-invasion Iraq. Facing popular resistance to the occupation, the Pentagon explicitly stated that it was considering the “El Salvador option” in Iraq. So history repeated itself there and Negroponte once again formed death squads in Iraq in order to crush the Iraqi resistance.
Far from creating stability, the United States plays an essential role in the instability and sectarian violence that plagues the region. These are not merely centuries old conflicts without resolution. These conflicts have a tangible cause and its rooted in imperialism. Syria (and Ukraine) finds itself as the battleground for a new proxy war between the United States and Russia. And it’s the Syrian people that suffer.